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A night with brown drakes

My friend called this morning to see if I was loose to go fishing. He said the flows had dropped significantly, and the river was fishable for the first time in weeks. We talked and set a time to meet. On the way he asked where I wanted to fish. I said, “How about that section on the lower river, where we just obtained permission? I have a hunch we’re gonna find some bugs there.”

It was mid-June, the time when all kinds of insect should be hatching. We arrived about 6:30 p.m., walked to the river to see if any hatches had started. It was a beautiful evening, sunny and cool. High above, an eagle and half a dozen turkey vultures rode the thermals, gliding in lazy circles. The sun was still on the water, and other than a few caddis flitting about, there was no surface activity.

By the time we were ready, it was almost 7 p.m. The sun had dipped behind the north mountain, casting shadows across the pool. This section was new to me, with a nice riffle and run that opened to a wide flat pool. Here, the river curved to the west as it sped along to the Main Stem. Since there was no surface activity, I tied on a March brown emerger and swung it across the current several times with no result, keeping an eye for hatching flies.

Over the years, I’ve learned that once the major hatches begin, it’s a good idea to periodically check the sky as dusk approaches, to see if there are any spinners in the air. Around 7:30, there were a few splashing rises that I attributed to emerging caddis. Then a few pale evening duns were on the water, but not enough to bring trout to the surface. My friend had tied on a caddis, hooked and lost a nice brown. I was still looking around and not casting very much, thinking that there has to be some type of spinner activity soon. There just has to be, I can feel it!

I checked the evening sky above the river again and spotted a large May-fly spinner, and yelled up to my friend, “There is a big spinner in the air!” But it was only one, I said to myself, “What’s going on here? There have to be more flies!”

Then at 8 p.m., there they are! Over the river, the air is filled with darting and weaving male and female spinners. And then, one dips in front of me and drops its round yellow egg sack. These are big flies but not coffin flies; they’re brown with clear wings—plus, coffin flies don’t have egg sacs.

By 8:30 p.m., there are dead and dying spinners on the water, and the trout finally start. I identify the flies as brown drakes. This species hatches at the same time as green drakes, yet is less known. It is in the same genera, Ephemera, lighter in color, and a bit smaller but no less important, especially the spinners. That being said, my friend is into a nice brown. Fish are now rising all around us. I locate a good fish, get the fly in front, and it takes. After a 10-minute tussle, I unhook a fat, 18-inch brown.

Then, as fast as it started, it’s over; the fish are full. That’s what happens with big flies. There are about 20 minutes of intense feeding, then the river is quiet. That’s the kind of fishing there is this time of year, the last hour, and a great time to be on the river.


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